Film review: BuriedBy Kim Francis
October 06, 2010
At first glance, the premise of Buried might seem better suited to an episode of an old anthology series like the The Twilight Zone and Tales Of The Unexpected.
Or perhaps even a stage play, such is its refusal to take advantage of the possibilities presented by the medium of cinema.
Or just maybe that’s the point – a man confined by a nailed-shut wooden coffin on the big screen for 90 minutes certainly gets across the sense of claustrophobia the film is at pains to create.
In general terms, as a feature film made for theatrical release, there is precious little that qualifies it for such a grand platform, save of course its Hollywood casting, including Ryan Reynolds as the film’s hero, Paul Conroy, an American truck driver contracted to drop supplies in Iraq.
But that certainly doesn’t mean it fails as a piece of cinema.
In the opening moments, we are presented with an uncomfortably lengthy period of darkness. As shuffling sounds become increasingly audible, the disquiet deepens until the light from a cigarette lighter illuminates the setting. It is at this point we are made aware – at the same time as our protagonist – that we are inside a wooden coffin.
Having been captured by insurgents and buried alive somewhere in the desert, Paul must use each of the items in his possession – a mobile phone, a lighter, a pencil and a penknife – to bargain his way out of his sealed box before he dies a horrible death in his airless prison.
Buried is an ambitious attempt to showcase the skills of the filmmaker on a tight budget but all it really succeeds in doing is showing that director (Rodrigo Cortes) is a one-trick pony. His trick is to spin out this story in a relatively gripping way, against the odds, for a full 95 minutes.
All of the action takes place inside the coffin. Not once are we afforded a glimpse of Paul’s captors, the hostage negotiator (Robert Paterson) or his family – and this is one of the film’s problems.
Without being able to contextualise Paul’s life, or see what’s going on outside, we find empathy problematic and tension cut to a minimum.
Sure, we are curious as to how things will pan out but we maintain an awkward detachment
that isn’t helped by some fairly damaging implausibilities.
The snake that finds its way into his box, his apparent close proximity to the surface (signalled by the fact he can hear voices and the effect a nearby bombing has on his coffin) and a relatively strong phone signal all lead us to imagine he’d probably be able to get himself out once his coffin is broken and sand starts pouring in.
The hostage negotiator and his questionable acting also harm the film immeasurably.
Every time the guy’s voice comes on the phone, it yanks the rug right out from any tension that might have been building.
Let it be clear: none of this is Reynolds fault. He’s proved himself a versatile and charismatic leading and supporting actor time and again and the film itself is a neat concept and valid commentary on the western world’s attitude to hostages, as well as on the human cost of war.
It’s also an interesting meditation on the nature of hope and the human spirit.
Sadly, however, Buried doesn’t have nearly enough tricks up its sleeve to sustain itself or entertain us for a full hour-and-a-half.